Shoot for the Moon

Based on a Letter to his Grandkids

Dear Matthew and Justina Keith:
I had picked out several pictures about the early days of the Apollo Space Program, but before I could finish I had a series of health problems and spent three days at Mayo Clinic and then a wound doctor and wound nurse were here at the house several days. A lot of the Apollo crash photos were never released to the press and that is another reason we did our testing in a very secret area near Brawley, California, at the Secret National Parachute Test Range.

I was born February 3, 1925, which made me four years old when the big depression hit. I had only one sister, Gloria, eighteen months younger than me. She enjoyed good health until 1991 when she was diagnosed with cancer and died less than a year later.

By 1929 the Depression was real bad and my mother, sister, and I were walking up to our house from the store and there was a policeman nailing a padlock on our door. He said we could not go in the house or remove anything from it. My father was a building contractor and his customers could not pay him the money they owed; therefore, my dad could not pay the building supply house. Due to that they foreclosed on our house.

My mother called my dad's brother Wayne, who lived nearby, told him what happened and asked my uncle Wayne if he would contact my dad. She asked him to look after me the rest of the day as she was taking my sister Gloria to Youngstown, Ohio, on a bus to live with my mother's oldest sister, Mattie, and her husband, Uncle Stanley Anderson.

My uncle Wayne was living in a boarding house and he could get my dad in but no kids were allowed. The nice lady who owned the boarding house said she would look after me until the weekend, when my dad could take me to his parents' home, a dairy farm 135 miles east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They were the most wonderful people who ever lived and I loved it there. My dad would come to see me every weekend. He was able to find work at Sears and Roebuck Department Store installing furnaces for them in Pittsburgh.

When my mother found out I was living with my grandparents she came back to Pittsburgh just long enough to go to court and take me back to Pittsburgh. Again, I was back at the boarding house with my dad and Uncle Wayne. A week later I was back on the farm. Again my mother moved back to Pittsburgh and again she had us back to court. This time it was different because my dad had saved up the $150 it took to have the adoption investigators check out my grandparents. They went back to the judge and reported their findings and I was awarded to my grandparents for good. The judge told my mother that if he ever saw her again in his court, she would be going to jail.

My sister never lived with my mother either; she was raised by my mother's sister Mattie and my uncle Stanley. As for my mother, she drifted all over the USA. I never tried to keep up with where she was nor did I care, especially after the way she treated my sister and me.

My grandmother's maiden name was Henry and their family lived in England. All were born there except for my grandmother, Carrie Henry. She was born in 1885, shortly after her family arrived in Pennsylvania. In those days Pennsylvania offered each family 160 acres of land free if they agreed to clear the land and farm it. The family talked it over and all agreed to make America their new home except the oldest brother. E. Chuck Henry. He had his heart set on going to Oxford University where he could receive a degree in Aeronautics.

He lived in a small town called Oxfordshire with his father's brother. He went on to earn a PhD, built his own airplane and even received permission to fly it in combat toward the end of World War I. He then was offered a professorship at Oxford, which he accepted. He stayed at Oxford for two years, then went to Canada as the number two man in engineering working for Noorduyn Aircraft Company designing aircraft they called the "Norseman," designed to fly people and supplies into the outback. He purchased one of the three engineering models and converted it so he could fly USA Air Mail in Pennsylvania. It was no small airplane as it had nine seats in it plus those for the pilot and co-pilot. As part of the conversion, the nine passenger seats were removed to make room for mail bags.

We had not heard from him in years and did not know he was coming to the farm. We were in the house when we heard this airplane fly low over the house. He landed on our old farm road. He told us who he was and that was the first time my grandmother ever met her brother. Because of his initials, "E.C.," which sounded like "Easy," that is what everyone called him. He was Uncle Easy to me.

We had a lot of flat land and a large barn, big enough for the airplane, cattle and the farm equipment. The house had seven bedrooms. I was just nine years old at this time. The only thing Uncle Easy missed was electricity as they had not yet installed electricity out from town. Up until Uncle Easy showed up, there were only my grandparents, my dad's youngest brother Russell and me living there. My grandmother had four boys and my Dad was the oldest. Next in age to my Dad were Lewis, then Wayne, and the youngest, Russell. Russell likcd farming so he never went to Pittsburgh with his three brothers. Instead he stayed on the farm and helped my grandfather.

My grandfather and Uncle Russell were not home when Uncle Easy showed up as they were helping a friend deliver a calf in a small town called Three Springs. When they got back, they too met Easy for the first time. My grandfather made him feel welcome, told him he could use the barn for the airplane and he would also make a better runway by planting hay on the road after he smoothed it he would keep it cut low.

I used to fly every chance I got. When I was ten he let me take the controls. I made my first solo flight when I was twelve. My grandfather said he did not care how much flying I did, providing I got home from school and cleaned the manure out of all twenty-eight cow stalls, loaded it into the manure spreader and put down fresh straw. I had to do this every morning and every evening. I also had to keep my school grades up. Uncle Easy told my grandfather he could help me with my schoolwork every evening for two hours after I had finished my barn chores. For light we used coal oil lanterns, but I got my two hours of study in every night with Uncle Easy.

Uncle Easy had me doing college work when I was only a freshman in high school: trigonometry, calculus, and all types of mathematics. That got me in trouble with my teacher Mr. Clyde Fraker when I pointed out he had made a mistake and I got up and corrected it. He told me I had to stay after school and go to the principal's office. Now I knew I was in trouble as in the principal's office was a board with holes in it and I knew I was in for a few whacks. I sat in my school room for a half hour before Mr. Fraker and the principal, Mr. Harnish, came into the room.

Mr. Harnish, by the way, was my grandfather's best friend. I said, "Mr. Harnish. my grandfather is going to be upset with me as he needs me to do the barn work and it will take me a half hour to get home even if I run." He told me he would drive me home as he needed to talk to my grandfather (Frank Keith) and me at the same time. Now for sure I knew I was going to be in trouble.

As we pulled up to the barn my grandfather came out and they told me to sit in the car. They talked for about half an hour, came over and said, "Thanks to your Uncle Easy, he has made you way ahead of the other kids in your class so we have decided to skip you to a senior." My grandfather said, "Do you think you can do it?" I not only did it but graduated number one in my class on May 28, 1942.

Mr. Harnish always picked us up on Sundays to take us to church but this Sunday would be different as it was Sunday, December 7, 1941. He wanted us to see his new car and it even had a radio in it. A radio in a car was something none of us on the farm had ever seen before. The first thing we heard on the radio was our President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and he was just ready to give us a speech that frightened all of us. What he had to say was, "We are at war. The Japanese have just bombed our big naval base located in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and they could land any time on American soil." Their troops had already landed in Alaska. The next day President Roosevelt declared war on Japan.

Later that day we received more details and they said thousands of Americans had been killed in the Japanese raid and several of our warships had been sunk while still tied up at their piers. They went on to say all men ages 21 to 28 were to report to the draft board at once. If you were still in school, you did not have to go yet.

When the bombing took place in Pearl Harbor, I was a senior in high school and would not be 17 until February 3, 1942. Our school was small and our senior class only had 23 boys and 3 girls. Most girls left school after the eighth grade so they could work on the farms. Same with a lot of the boys. Very few farm boys ever went to college but that was my goal up until the war started. Now things were changing fast. I did turn seventeen on February 3, 1942, took my private pilot's license test and passed. Three days after my seventeenth birthday the Marine recruiting team showed up at our school and said the Marines only take kids who have graduated from high school. That meant none of our kids had graduated yet and would have to wait until the end of May when we would graduate. However, if you were eighteen years old you could sign up, and those that did would stay together as a team. What they did not say was they would only stay together through boot camp.

I asked, "What about me?" as I'd only be seventeen when I graduated. They said, "Take this form and have your guardian sign that they approve." Both my grandfather and my father wanted me to stay on the farm. I told them next year the draft age would drop lower, I would be drafted and not have a choice as to the branch of the service. I wanted to be a Marine. At last they gave in and signed the papers that allowed me to stay with my class.
Had the Japanese followed up they could have captured all of the Hawaiian Islands as they caught us with our pants down. They underestimated our ability to mobilize as fast as we did. No time was wasted in training. Marine Boot Camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, is normally seventeen weeks, but this was cut back to thirty days as most of us kids were in good condition. We lost one young man as he had a nervous breakdown; boot camp was just too much for him so they gave him what they called a section eight discharge and sent him back home. The remaining twenty-two boys spent all night on a train that took us up to Camp Lejeune Advance Training Base in North Carolina.

This was the end of the team as we all got orders to report to some other base. You got ten days leave en route to your new base. I was the last one to be called up for my orders. The officer in charge said, "Your papers say you have a private pilot's license. Can you prove that?" I answered by saying, "I have them in my foot locker, sir, along with my log book." He told me about a new program for pilots who didn't have a college degree but did have a pilot's license. "When you finish Navy pilot training, you will receive silver wings rather than gold wings but you will all be Fighter Pilot Master Sergeants with six stripes." They even made a movie called Flying Sergeants about our squadron. We did have a few gold wing officer pilots.

There was only one problem as this was Friday and the class started the following Monday in Pensacola, Florida. "You also will have to trade in your enlistment of four years for six years, go over to Cherry Point yet today and take a flight test. If you pass we will fly you to Pensacola, which means you will miss your ten days' delay home." Needless to say I passed and showed up in time for the advance Navy flight school. "Basic Pilot Training" was a snap for me with all the training I had over the years. Thirty days later I had my silver wings and six sergeant stripes.

Basic Pilot Training started July 1, 1942 in Pensacola, Florida flying the Boeing Stearman Model PT-17, 9 cylinder biplane and the Navy version N3N and ended August 1, 1942.
On August 2, 1942, they flew me from Pensacola, Florida to North Island, San Diego. I reported to Advanced Carrier Training Group (ACTG) flying North American Aviation SNJ's and then the Grumman F4F Wild Cats using a simulated carrier deck. I finished training on August 21.

The next morning, Saturday, August 22, I was ordered to report to VMF-121 based just north of San Diego at Kearney Mesa/Miramar Marine Air Base. I reported to the top man in the squadron, Commanding Officer, also known as the skipper, Major Leonard "Duke" Davis. He was the only man in the squadron who graduated from "Annapolis," the Navy's top school. The Executive Officer was Joe Foss. Normally, in those days a squadron consisted of 18 to 27 planes and as many as 40 pilots. Capt. Joe Foss was 27 1/2 years old. The rule was you were allowed in a fighter squadron if you were age 17 to 27. That meant he had to pull a lot of strings to get in plus he had over 1000 hours of instructor pilot hours where most of the non-instructor pilots only had an average of 213 flight hours.

When I reported to VMF 121 I was met by Major Leonard "Duke" Davis and Captain Joe "Old Foss" Foss. It was "Old Foss" who gave me my nickname "Kid." First thing he said to me was, "How old are you kid?" I said, "Seventeen, sir." Then Major "Duke" spoke up and said I looked through your record jacket and it says you completed all of your training classes as number one. Then he said, "All pilots must have nicknames so yours will be "Kid" from now on." I did not like that but decided to prove this "Kid" could fly as well as if not better than all the rest.

Captain "Old Foss" looked at my record jacket and said he did not see any report on me shooting at a towed target or low level bombing and strafing training. I told him, That is because I never had any, "sir." No one ever told me I was supposed to have that training.
"Old Foss" called the training officer at Yuma and he asked if he could fit me in for a couple days of training. The training officer said he had a class starting the next morning. "Old Foss" told him I would fly out that night and be ready in the morning. An hour later I was en route to Yuma, a place I had never seen or heard about but I had the directions and radio call sign. About an hour later I landed at Yuma and they directed me where to park. I topped off my fuel tanks so I would be ready to fly out the next morning. The target range was just a few miles southeast of the base and they had a row of six bunkers that looked like snow hut igloos built out of sand. These were to simulate machine gun nests. I was the third man out of seven and attached to my wings were eight flour bombs, four on each wing. The first two planes came in high and missed by a mile. I came at about 15 feet and put my first of eight bombs right into the door. The last three planes also stayed a couple hundred feet up and came close but none hit. We did this over and over and finally stopped after six runs. I hit all six of my targets and still had two bombs left.

Now it was time to shoot at the tow target; here I failed badly as I never hit the tow target once. My mind was on the tow plane and cable and by the time I concentrated on the target sock I missed. My instructor was a nice guy and he told me how to get the target and that tomorrow I would do great. Now we were back on the Yuma flight line.

About that time one of the officers came out to the fliight line and asked if Master Sergeant Keith was out there? I reported, "Right here, sir." Then he told me to report to my squadron at once. You can top off your fuel tanks and we will fix you a sandwich and a Coke for the flight back. I asked if he knew why I had to get back so soon? His answer was, "I don't ask questions, I just follow orders."

Some strong winds came up out of the west which put them right on my nose, so it was an hour and a half before I could report to "Old Joe Foss." I asked him what I did wrong. He said, “You did nothing wrong but effective immediately we are on lock down, no phone calls in or out, same with visitors as we are flying to San Diego Naval Base in the morning. Pack up all your gear, have it ready to be loaded on the trucks and be ready to fly your plane to San Diego at six a.m.”

The next morning they used a big crane and loaded all our planes on board the carrier Copahee. Pilots along with some ground troops boarded a troop transport called the Matsonia. At one time this old beat up Matsonia had been a luxury liner. Each small state room had four bunks stacked floor to ceiling. We pulled out of the States September 1, 1942. The sad part was I never got the ten day leave I was promised nor did I get a chance to call my father and grandparents to say good-bye. I understood the lock down as we could jeopardize the mission.

Most of us did not know where we were headed. After a few days our skipper, Duke Davis, called us into the pilots ready room and told us our destination would be an island code named "Cactus." The real name was Guadalcanal, located at the southern end of the Solomon Island chain of islands. However, our first stop would be the harbor of Naumea located on the island of New Caledonia where on September 29, we met up with our aircraft carrier Copahee, already in the harbor. Eighteen of us pilots left the troop ship Matsonia, went aboard the aircraft carrier Copahee and spent the whole day cleaning up our Grumman F4F's. Major Davis said he would fly off first and Capt. Foss would be last.

This was the first ever for any of us to get catapult shot off of any carrier. Each of the pilots were given a printed "check sheet" that we had to read and check off each item prior to starting our engines and taking off. I modified mine by printing in at the top of the card these words "God, I am praying you will be a good co-pilot today." That first carrier take off was wild but I loved it.

Our flight only lasted about fifteen minutes and we landed at a strip named Tontoura on New Caledonia. The winds were strong but we only had one problem – one of our pilots tipped over and hit his wing tip. That made him ground loop and he smashed into some rocks. He was not hurt and everyone pitched in (ground crew) and got his airplane ready for our October 6 flight out to the carrier, the Long Island. Landing on a moving carrier was much harder than the simulated carrier landing strip at North Island, San Diego. I did fine and felt good about it.

Next stop would be Henderson Field on Guadalcanal about 800 miles north. The problem was our patrol planes spotted six submarines between our carrier and Henderson Field. When we were still approximately 500 miles short the skipper of he Long Island carrier said "I can't go any further as we could get hit by one of those subs and not only lose the carrier but every man and aircraft on board.” Our range with the F4F was 770 miles so we would be fine.

The first Marine fighter squadron to land at Henderson Field was VMF-223 headed by Major John Lucien Smith. He was one of the first pilots to become an ace. To be an ace you had to have shot down five Japanese aircraft. These had to be confirmed either by gun cameras or two other pilots. Major Smith had been on Henderson six weeks before us and had shot down nineteen Japanese planes by then. All together his squadron had shot down 46 planes. A tour of duty was seven weeks and after only six weeks his crew was a sorry looking group. Most of the men had Malaria and that made your eyes and fingernails yellow and made you very sick with high temperatures. They were taking Quinine tablets that helped some. Dysentery was common to all of them and several had the shakes because they were so ill. Before it was over I too got dysentery. I would wear three pair of shorts and place a piece of canvas over the parachute in the seat bucket. Since we didn't have laundry service I would use a five gallon empty lard bucket to wash my shorts and flight suit each night. Because of all the dampness they would sometimes still be wet in the morning but you wore them anyway.

Major Smith said, ''We will teach you all we can in the one week we have left. The first thing you have to learn is come in over the field high and circle down to the field as we are surrounded by heavy guns and thousand of Japanese with rifles and machine guns. Another thing is you need is a good low level pilot." Joe spoke up and said, "We have that man. He is young but he sure can take out pill boxes and all other types of gun in placements. We call him the "Kid" but he soloed at age twelve and flew every chance he could get with his airmail pilot uncle. He is the best I've ever seen and is fearless." Then the Major said, “I have one low level pilot too; "Kid" can fly wing with him tomorrow and see how we interface with our heavy artillery men. We also need to knock out those machine gun nests between the field here and the beach." Old Joe Foss came to me and said, "Kid, your work is cut out for you." He told me of the conversation he had with Major Davis. He said, "Fly low and do not look up or you are a dead man. The rest of us will keep you covered. Another thing, start right away taking your Quinine tablets."

Once you gel Malaria you never get rid of it. Sometimes you think you are rid of it and it comes back. This was the monsoon season and trying to dig fox holes in coral with a combination little shovel and pick was like digging into steel.

The Seabees used their big machines to build mounds of dirt and coral all around our airplanes only leaving the front open. We pushed our planes in backwards and still had plenty of room to put in two pup tents, one big enough for two cots where the pilot and crew chief slept and the other one for our supplies and to hang up our washing. Outside of the tent we each had a fox hole. If you were skinny like I was it was deep enough but due to all the rain they were half full of rain water, mosquitos and larvae.

blaine keith Blaine Keith on Guadalcanal at age 17 is carrying a Thompson machine gun. Even though a full time pilot, he did “ground pounder” duty every fourth day to protect planes and the air base due to shortage of marines.
When we first got to Guadalcanal the Japanese owned the sea and we could expect them to shell us with their big guns almost every night. Then before morning they would pull out and go to wherever they would hide during the day. In addition to the big Japanese warships we could expect the Japanese, who were dug in south of us in the hills, to lob their shells in on us. We no more than get in our bunks and the shelling would start. Every one of us hit our fox holes which were half full of water. Come morning we gathered our dead. Fortunately and thank God we did not lose any men in our squadron that first night.

"Old Joe Foss" and his men went looking for the Japanese warships the next morning. After my quick indoctrination I was off to get those beach machine guns and within a couple of hours I knocked every one of them out. I never gave it a second thought that they were shooting back at me. They put a few holes in my F4F Wildcat but no real harm. Major Smith's pilots tried for five weeks to get those machine guns and never got one. That was the reason for the circle down landing. For this effort, approximately mid September 1942, I was nominated for the Bronze Star which I received later. I called our heavy artillery officer and asked if he would like me to go after those gunmen in the hills south of us and he said, "Thanks but no thanks for now, as we think we have them spotted and expect to knock them out. Thanks for the offer and we may take you up on it if our plan fails here in the next few hours." I then started back to the field to make sure it was safe for a straight in approach without the circling down like we had to do before. Landing now was a piece of cake.

Before I could get back to the field I spotted a landing craft loaded with Japanese troops. I flew out toward it to make sure it was not one of ours. All at once they started shooting at me and hit my rudder. I made a quick exit, dived down to about twenty feet off the water, made a big loop around and came in from behind them. I stayed between twenty and thirty five feet over the water until I was back about a hundred yards. All I could see was a helmsman and the engine and fuel tank so I let go just one burst. That wooden landing craft blew all to heck and I almost hit the debris. Within seconds all those Japanese troops with big back packs sank to the bottom. For one day I had had enough; I was low on fuel and out of ammunition. If my gun cameras did their job I would be happy. Before our first six weeks was up, I had sunk ten of their landing crafts but only take credit for eight as my cameras failed to verify the last two. I also worked out a plan to get the Mother ship I spotted hiding in a harbor about 20 miles from us. I told "Old Foss" my plan and he liked it. That plan was to get one of the torpedo planes to hang back and give me a chance to come in from behind knowing they could not see me through the thick palm trees. Then I would fire at them to draw their fire and once the torpedo plane saw he could attack with his torpedo I would sink them. I'm glad he hit them when he did because I was in the middle of a fire storm of gun fire. It was a good thing they could not see me. It worked and we sank the mother ship, crew and supplies. That ship was reported to have about 3,000 crewman and troops aboard plus supplies when our torpedo blew it up. Their goal was to take back Guadalcanal and their airport. Our torpedo took care of that plan.

General Mulcahy recommended me for the Silver Star for that action and it was presented to me by Vice Admiral William "Bull" F. Halsey, Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

After that, "Old Joe Foss" changed my code name from "Kid" to "Killer." That I did not like as I never wanted to be a killer nor did I wish to kill anyone – but this was war. So "Killer" became my code name. Old Foss was one of the best men I ever knew in my whole life, but I had to get even with him for that name he gave me. I thought I would have some fun with him so I saw him up on his plane parked next to mine and he was painting his kills from twenty one to twenty three. Each time you shot down an enemy plane you painted a small emblem on your plane. I hurried to the ready room and got a piece of red chalk off of the chalk board and crushed it and added a little water so I could draw with it, then I started painting small Japanese landing crafts on the side of my plane. After I had painted three, I asked Joe, "How does that look?" He took one look and said, "You can't do that!!! You are only allowed to paint the emblems when you shoot down an airplane." I said, "Well think about it Joe, you shot down twenty three airplanes and killed twenty three men. Now I sunk between eight to ten landing crafts loaded with about sixty men in each one, so that means I killed between 480 and 600 men, not counting those I killed in the village or out in the open." I could see he was getting mad so I wet my finger and wiped off one of one of the landing crafts. Then I started to laugh. Now he knew I was just pulling a joke on him. Now we were both laughing even though we were both sick with malaria. We became the best of friends after that. I also accepted the code name·"Killer. "

Two days later on November 19, 1942 they flew those of us who were the sickest to Noume, New Caledonia for aggressive treatment using Quinine and a new drug called Atabrine. Within two weeks most of us felt good enough to return to duty but they said we could go on R & R before reporting to duty. Old Foss and a couple of guys went to Sydney, Australia. That would be the last I would see Joe but I heard he went back to Guadalcanal and shot down three more planes all the same day January 1, 1943. This broke a record Eddie Rickenbacker set in WWI where he shot down twenty-five planes. After breaking Eddie Rickenbacker's record he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and sent back to the States. I elected to go to Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands for my two weeks of R & R.

The fighting continued with from island to island. Each tour of duty was one year, then you got to go home. But if you stayed and signed up for another year, you got a thousand dollar bonus and in those days that was a lot of money. I fought a lot of battles over the next few years. A few islands where I fought were Guadalcanal. Bougainville, Saipan, Tinian, Iwo-Jima and the last was Okinawa. I thought Guadalcanal was bad but of the lot, Iwo-Jima was by far the worst. My trust in the Lord is all that saved me in Iwo-Jima.

By then Harry S. Truman was President and he finished the war with Atomic Bombs. This killed many Japanese but saved thousands of American lives.

I turned twenty-one on my way back to the States. Because of my record I was selected to attend War College at Pittsburgh University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the next four years. In order to do this I had to extend my tour of duty six more years, four years of college and two more years of active duty. There was no Marine base nearby so I was transferred to the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. This way I could get in my four hours of flight time each month and still be a Marine pilot and receive the extra pay. The National Guard had airplanes I was permitted to use and quarters I could stay in. My real home base was Cherry Point, North Carolina. Each summer when school was closed down I was told to take thirty days of annual leave and then report to Cherry Point. The first year the base commander told me they were already overloaded with pilots, not enough airplanes to go around and for me to report back to the National Guard. He said if the situation changed they would contact me. In all four years Cherry Point never called me and I never contacted them. I even took a summer job painting office buildings. Cherry Point Administration did keep a close watch on my grades as I had to keep all of my grades "B" or above or be terminated from the war college and be sent back to regular duty. They also made sure that I did fly at least once a month for at least four hours. I did not worry about this as I was straight "A" plus all four years. I was only required to fly five hours a month but I averaged twenty five hours a month.

After four years of college I graduated in 1950 as an Aeronautical Engineer. My Cherry Point Commanding Officer came to my graduation, pinned on my field commission as a Captain and my gold pilot wings and gave me my orders to report to the Marine Air Base in EI Toro, California where I joined VMF 3 11, a jet squadron flying Grumman F9F-2 Panther Jets. After three months we were sent to Korea on maneuvers to put in 100 missions and within weeks President Harry S. Truman called it a police action. Years later they changed "Police Action" to the "Korean War." Here our main objective was to stop both the North Koreans and the Chinese troops from moving into South Korea as they were our allies. South Korea was where we were based. In our area there was just one main road between North Korea and South Korea and our job was to take out as many of their troops, trucks, tanks and big guns as we possibly could. The road had to be elevated where it ran through the rice paddies. If we caught the North Koreans or Chinese in these elevated spaces it was like shooting ducks. They had no place to run. Also there were several bridges and we were ordered to destroy as many of the bridges as possible.

The main bridge which was our main objective was so well guarded we did not go near it at first then one of our wing leaders got permission for us to take two, three plane formations; he would go in first with his three planes and I would follow him in with my three planes.

His formation of three planes got hit hard and all three crashed into the wall. When I saw this I told my men to make a quick turn around because I had a better idea. I'd go alone while they circled about ten miles west. Understand, this bridge was about a mile long with an enormous arch under the long span of bridge. It was almost two thousand feet down to the bottom of the gorge from the bridge. The bridge rested on the top of the arch so if I could knock out the arch the bridge would collapse. I knew I did not dare fly up the east side of the canyon or they would get me too. I thought about some of the stunt flying I learned as a kid from my great uncle " Easy." I was not sure I could do it with a jet and a five hundred pound bomb attached under each wing. First, I would fly right next to the bottom of the gorge west of the bridge, go under the bridge, pull straight up, cut power to idle, fall back and kick in my rudder, something they call today a "'hammerhead stall," a way to change direction one hundred eighty degrees without using up any more space than approximately the length of the airplane. It is a dangerous maneuver because it is possible to stall the turbo jet engine if you cut off the intake air.

The hammerhead worked. I was level and headed full power straight for the arch. At the last moment I pulled a half snap roll just inches from the arch that put me parallel with the arch and I let both bombs go at once. It was a direct hit and my plane look a beating from flying concrete. I flew west down the gorge a couple of miles, pulled up and looked back to see the bridge collapse. My two wing men joined me on my wing and were as happy as I was. They said they had never seen any flying like that and asked if I was hit. I told them I wasn’t hit but the concrete sure did a number on the plane.

They asked if they could fly north of the bridge and unload their bombs and their guns. That sounded good to me. I told them I still had my eight 20 mm cannon guns loaded so we should go and have some fun. Then it hit us that we lost three good men who dived on the bridge so as soon as we unloaded on them north of the bridge we headed home. With the bridge out, the North Koreans had to detour over a hundred miles through the mountains. For this action I was nominated for my second Bronze Star. The first one I earned in WWII.
I still had ten more flights left. All went well until the ninety ninth night and some gook got me with a lucky shot from a rifle That rifle bullet came up through the bottom of the plane, put a crease in the heat and vent line, the utility hydraulic line, emergency gear cable, went through the seat bucket and the upper part of my leg and smashed my canopy. That bullet through the leg earned me my first Purple Heart. I told my guys I would not be able to fly over fourteen thousand feet so I would head out over the water and stay within a half mile of land and every once in a while I'd give a short count so they could track me with their ADF. I had them to go to altitude so they could make it back and ready a chopper in the event I went down. For sure I was not going to land on the beach or I'd end up in a Korean prison camp.

The Good Lord was my co-pilot and I made it all the way but had to land on the belly. I had no choice as the bullet knocked out my utility hydraulic fluid and the emergency gear cable. Without the utility system your gear and speed brakes will not function.

A few stitches and a couple days rest on the hospital ship and I was good as new. Our skipper, Lt. Col. Mcintyre said, "You did a fantastic job on that bridge and from what I hear you did some fancy flying." Then he pinned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star Metal on me. I reminded him I signed up for one hundred flights and to please let me finish my tour. He agreed. I made one more flight and headed to San Diego the next day for a week of R & R and to report to my next duty station there.

At the San Diego Marine Air Base they told me to report to test pilot school at Patuxent Naval Air Test Center in Maryland. I would have a month leave before I had to report.

After test pilot school I was assigned to test the FJ-I Fury Jet for the Marines. The FJ-l was a dog so I turned it down. Even North American Aviation agreed it did not meet our standards so I was sent to Port Columbus, Ohio to help design what the Marines wanted. I was based at the Navy Base on the south side of the field and North American Aviation (NAA) was on the north side. Both the NAA Brass and the Marines thought it best if no one knew I was a Marine as it might upset some of the designers. I reported to work in civilian clothes just like any NAA employee. My boss at NAA would be Scottie Rankin and he and the personal director Jack Mathews were the only ones who knew who I really was. Turns out this was not the first undercover assignment I would have over the years. I did a lot of super secret undercover work for the Marines, NASA and Goodyear. There are things I still am not at liberty to discuss. So no one would get wise they told me to move into a nearby apartment building which was built onto the back of a trailer camp office.

While in Korea I had the chance to fly the NAA F-86 Saber Jet and that was a sweetheart. NAA built the FJ-I Fury and the F-86 in Los Angeles. They looked somewhat alike but boy were they different. The F-86 Saber jet was a real beauty to fly and land. It was an Air Force airplane. They started building the FJ-2 in LA but then they moved the whole lot to the Columbus plant which they purchased from the Curtiss Aircraft Company to build the FJ-2. That was a dog just like the FJ-I. The FJ-3 they built was a little better. They tried to get it right with the FJ-4 and the FJ-4B.

By the time I left NAA for the NASA Space Program in California, all of the FJ-4 design had been completed. All they had to do was build it and fly it. If necessary I would be available to return and test fly it. Turns out that was not necessary. Sometime later I had to make a trip to Patuxent and there on the ramp was a FJ-4B and I had a chance to fly it. This is what the Marines needed and they purchased several hundred before the program ended. I felt good having accomplished the goal the Marines gave me as did Scottie Rankin. That was in the early 1950s. Most of the enclosed space pictures have writing on them so I will end this before it turns into a book.

You may wonder why I never went home in all those years. The reason was I had no home to go to. I was in the Marines and not long after my Uncle Russell was drafted into the Army. No one was left to work these small farms as most young guys were in the military fighting wars both in Europe and the Pacific Islands. Big farm guys knew this and were able to buy small farms at ten cents on the dollar. The small farmers had no choice but to sell.
My first space job was flying rockets. Most of the first rocket planes we designed, built, and tested ourselves in a small wooden building at the Dryden Research Base, a very secret facility. Only a fence separated Dryden from Edwards Air Force Base.

We used an Air Force B-52 with our rocket planes strapped to one of the bomb racks. Now that was a hairy ride! I had to prove I could fly through the atmosphere. The B-52 took me up to 50,000 feet and then dropped me. I cut in the rocket and zipped past the B-52, shot straight up and went through the atmosphere like it was not there and you could see the curvature of the earth.

I did have one problem that darn near cost me my life. When we loaded the propellant into the rocket it was only to take me up to the edge of space but not into it as the plane we built was not capable of flying in outer space. Somehow I entered outer space by about six miles and traveled almost a hundred and forty miles before the Earth’s gravity pulled me back in and I regained control but a hundred and forty miles with no engine is too far to glide back to "Muroc Dry Lake." I almost made it, but I hit that that desert hard, like a flat pancake, and received minor hairline fractures in both hips. A pin in each hip fixed me up for a few years. Today both hips are artificial. The left one was replaced in 1987 and the right one in 1993. That did not stop me. I continued to fly for several years after that. That first night into space, even though it was unplanned, still earned me the "Silver Astronaut Award," as we learned a lot from that night. That is what research is all about.

I stayed with the Space Program until all of the engineering on the Space Shuttle design was completed. I then retired from the Marines after 37 years, in 1979. I accepted a position heading up The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company's Western Division. They planned to split off the Goodyear Aerospace Group and I would head the seven Western Divisions, which they did not long after I joined them. Retirement from the Marines was part of the agreement with Goodyear as Goodyear was afraid I would get called back after they had made a big investment in me. They wanted someone who knew and understood different applications a company like theirs could get involved in since most of the engineering was free to those who wanted it.

I stayed with them until 1990 and then without any warning the Mitral Valve on the left side of my heart failed. I collapsed while giving a briefing to a group of visitors and was taken to the Saint Joseph Hospital in Orange, California. They told me I might live a few hours or maybe only minutes. They also said I might not even make it out of the operating room alive. That was in the days when heart surgery was not as common as it is today. I had no choice but to say "Get on with it and if I do not make it then that is God's will." I felt that I came near death numerous times and with prayer and God’s help I always made it. This was no exception. With God’s help and the head doctor Alan B. Gazzaniga, I walked out with a warning that if I would take it easy I could live another three to six years.

I retired from Goodyear at once and started looking for property in Carefree and started designing the home we live in. I told Martha if she would like we would add a second master bedroom like ours and her sister Grace who lived in Phoenix could move in with us. They are identical twin and the best of friends. I have to say that was the best thing I ever did. I went to Mayo Hospital and Doctor Steven J. Lester became my primary doctor. He has been looking after me for years and is like a son. My loving wife, Martha, and her sister, Grace, look after me just as much as my Mayo doctor.

My Mayo Clinic physician, Dr. S. J. Lester's son Jacob, daughter Isabella and his wife Dana gave me a cup which I put in our china cabinet because of what it says. It is something you need to remember: "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars." Dr. Lester and his family are like family to us. We love them. Should you want a cup like it, Dana said they found it in "AJ's Food Market." There are seven in the Scottsdale, Arizona area.

Lots of love to some wonderful kids.

Grandpa Blaine F. Keith


Colonel Blaine F. Keith Award Descriptions
(From Left to Right)

medals of blain ekeithSilver Star
Red-White-Blue Ribbon. Large gold star attached to the ribbon with silver star in middle of the large gold star. Awarded by Vice Admiral William “Bull” F. Halsey, Commander of the Pacific Fleet. 1942. Awarded in Guadalcanal for extraordinary bravery in battle.

Bronze Star
Large star with a bronze star in the center attached to a ribbon that is red with a blue stripe down the center, the bronze star in the middle of the ribbon means you have been awarded two bronze stars. The first Bronze Star was awarded in Guadalcanal in 1942. The second Bronze Star was awarded in Korea in 1951.

Purple Heart
Large gold medal with purple inlay and face of President George Washington, purple ribbon with narrow white stripes on outer edges. This was awarded when I was shot in the leg while flying in an airplane. I landed wheels up but made it back to my base in Korea before I crashed. I made two more flights, returned to the U.S. and went to test pilot school.

NASA Pin, X-1 Rocket, Silver Astronaut Award (from top to bottom)
I went to 50,000 feet, strapped onto a B-52 bomb rack in the X-1. They cut me loose and then I cut in the rocket engine and went up through the outer atmosphere, six miles into space as the first man in space in 1952. The rocket has not been designed or built to go into space. I went 140 miles before the Earth’s gravity finally pulled me back to where I could control it as a glider because I had no engine. In order to go make it 140 miles back to Muroc Dry Lake without an engine, I put it in a steep dive and built up speed. I was still short of the lake by about one mile and I cracked both hips when I crash landed. I caught a lot of hell for that. But that is what research is all about so it was hushed up. I received the first Silver Astronaut Award because we learned a lot from that flight.
Between the Silver Star and the Bronze Star is the last space shuttle test flight we made, shown sitting on the top of a Boeing 747. We did seven total flights off that 747 to prove it could fly before we allowed the astronauts to rocket it into space.

My Wings, Lifetime Member of Guadalcanal Pin, Colonel Rank Pin

Over half my life was spent flying anything that could be flown, in war and peace. Why am I still here? I owe it to our Lord in whom I firmly believe. God was my co-pilot.

Colonel Blaine F. Keith
February 5, 2011